Workforce housing hearing vacant

An issue drawing widespread criticism drew few residents and zero commercial and industrial representatives as resort developers and council members hashed out ideas yesterday surrounding affordable workforce housing.

The workshop, which is designed to allow county officials to hear suggestions from developers and the public on how to create comprehensive guidelines for future development, covered two of 10 sections of the legislation.

While the resort development community had several representatives, including Grove Farm, a mere two residents made comments to the Committee on Community Assistance and Intergovernmental Relations about the proposed measure.

While County Councilwoman Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho, who chairs the committee, said she wasn’t surprised that few residents attended, she said she hopes developers in the industrial and commercial sector understand their continued absence could preclude them from having a say in the guidelines.

“A lot of people work two jobs, so I wasn’t surprised about the lack of residents,” Carvalho said, noting written suggestions have been submitted. “But the policy triggers not only resort development, but commercial and industrial. They’re going to be subject to the same conditions as a resort development.”

Carvalho also said it was critical to note that smaller developments would be also affected.

“Something as small as five or more units or industrial or commercial will be impacted. Hopefully they’ll get that message and participate — especially in Lihu‘e.”

The proposed measure would designate 40 percent of new development as “affordable housing” for residents, consisting of a split 30 percent for both leasehold sales and fee simple sales and a 10 percent land donation requirement.

The Kaua‘i Housing Policy proposed legislation was drafted by housing specialist Ken Rainforth, who used other municipalities, such as Davis, Calif., and the counties of Maui and Hawai‘i, as models.

The proposal, which aims to carve out an opportunity for residents who can’t afford to buy homes at market value, is intended to unify standards for developers, Carvalho said.

In the past, requisites for developers have been arbitrarily decided, a flaw that could become a thing of the past, Carvalho said.

Part of cultivating a uniform policy will most likely involve offering a combination of choices to developers, Carvalho said, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.

An example, she said, is cash rich and land poor companies which would be able to provide different provisions than those that are land rich and cash poor.

“Everybody came with the realization that it’s hard to do a comprehensive policy — some are on the high end, some are on the medium and low end,” she said. But we have a positive commitment to making the policy work with everybody.”

Tracy Nagata, vice president of Island Development Group, said if the measure were “more flexible” with its requirements for workforce housing, it would incite developers to give more than the 10 percent required land dedication for low income in exchange for the cuts elsewhere.

“If there is a range of 20 to 30 percent (land designation) overall, that would be more workable,” Nagata said.

Carvalho said she would like to see specific numbers from Nagata, to help nail down the developer guidelines.

“It’s our hope that we will have something passed within four months,” Carvalho said.

Though in accordance about making the legislation a top priority, not all committee members were in sync with whether workplace housing should be on-site.

County Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura said she was in favor of on-site workplace housing, noting that if developers were displeased with that idea, perhaps a density increase would “make it more palatable.”

County Council Chairman Kaipo Asing said he felt “the opposite.”

“If (the developers) provided off-site housing (they) would be providing possibly more land,” he said.

The county will be accepting proposals from developers for amendments to the current housing requirements until March 16.

The next Committee on Community Assistance and Intergovernmental Relations special meeting scheduled to workshop the Kaua‘i Housing Policy proposed ordinance will be March 27.

• Amanda C. Gregg, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 252) or agregg@kauaipubco.com.

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